Responding to Juleyka’s callout for stories of family members living under authoritarian rule, reader Colleen touches upon the experience of her Dutch stepmother:
She spent four years in a Japanese POW camp in Indonesia—from age 12 to 16, and her brother from age 9 to 13. When they were liberated they went back to Holland as displaced persons.
The experience was NEVER talked about. No counseling. Nothing.
When she reached 18 she joined the Dutch Royal Navy, immigrated to Canada in her mid 20s, then to the U.S about age 28. She met my father and, for some unknown reason, married him. They had two daughters, who are now 53 and 52 (I’m 73).
My step-mom was a lovely, funny, gracious, manipulative control freak. Her mother taught me how to cook. Oma [“grandmother” in German] did not speak English, and I did not speak Dutch or German, but we flowed through the kitchen with smiles, laughter, and words that neither understood. Needless to say my step-mom had a wonderful effect on my life.
The period was one of the most critical in Indonesian history. Under German occupation, the Netherlands had little ability to defend its colony against the Japanese army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Borneo, the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces.
Initially, most Indonesians joyfully welcomed the Japanese, as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. The sentiment changed, as Indonesians were expected to endure more hardship for the war effort. In 1944–1945, Allied troops largely bypassed Indonesia and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of Indonesia was still under Japanese occupation at the time of their surrender, in August 1945.
Even if you don’t post it, I definitely recommend giving it a listen or at least looking through the transcript at the bottom of the page. It starts off on another tangent but ends up settling on a truly amazing story about how a group of Western adults in China during the time of the Japanese invasion kept their kids relatively protected from the worst of the horrors by turning the experience into an extended Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) camp as best they could.
This growing collection of stories makes me think of one we posted for our adulthood series, from a reader who grew up during the Communist dictatorship in Albania. Here’s a reposting of Valbona Bajraktari Schwab’s note:
Adulthood happened very early for me—the change, that is; that moment in time when you stop seeing the world around you as a big playground and you realize that it’s a minefield.
It was April 1985 in communist Albania. Our dictator, Enver Hoxha, had just passed away. I was 11 years old, in 5th grade, and as part of the youth leadership group of my middle school, I was asked to participate in the wake for our leader.
This meant waking up at 6am, lining up in the main boulevard of our capital city, Tirana, and walking slowly the line that snaked through the road all the way to the official building that houses the body of the dead dictator. I was there with a few teachers and a group of students ages 10-18. We knew we had to be serious and sad and cry often, but we didn’t know how long it would take and what a wake involved.
It took us a few hours before we got close to the building, but we didn’t realize that we would walk around the actual body of the dead. I remember in a blur the low lights, the big mound in the center of the room, flowers piled everywhere, but mostly the smell—sharp, chemical, rotting flowers and the faint smell of rotting flesh. I walked quickly in a daze, looking for the escape of the sun and fresh air outside.
As I am leaving a building, a reporter catches my eye and stops me. He said he wants to interview me and ask me questions about my impressions of the wake and my reaction to the death of our leader. I was confused and asked him what he wanted me to say. He said: “Well, say something about how you have met him when he was alive and how you’ll miss him now that he is gone and how he will live forever in our hearts and conclude with ‘farewell comrade Enver.’” Wanting to leave and join my friends, I quickly blurted out the lines in front of the camera and left.
When I arrived home about an hour later, I learned that my interview had been broadcast on the sole national TV channel. My grandmother said, “You spoke nicely but you didn’t look sad.”
I didn’t think much of it. I was anxious to see my mother, as I was tired and hadn’t seen her since early that morning and she was late from work. My mother came home three hours late. I ran to meet her but she stopped me before I had a chance to hug her, held me firmly by my shoulders and said, in the loudest voice I’d ever heard from her, “Never, ever go on national television again and never ever talk about political things with anyone.” She then hugged me tightly and started crying.
I learned that after my interview had been broadcasted on TV, everyone had seen it, since it was obligatory to follow the ceremony, even while at work. The representative of the communist party in my mother’s work place had seen it and had not been impressed by the fact that I didn’t cry. I didn’t show appropriate emotion for our leader’s death.
So, the natural answer was that my mother was a bad parent who hadn’t taught her daughter the appropriate emotional sentiment for the esteemed members of the party. He had called a political meeting right then and there, where the subject was my mother and her adherence to the communist principles as seen via her parenting skills. The meeting lasted three straight hours.
I thought she would be sent to jail or to a work camp and that I’d never see her again. Luckily, she was the first female surgeon of Albania and a very skilled one at that, so they spared her.
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My father was also one of many Dominican men who served under the dictatorship of Trujillo. My father was a man of his time. He arrived in the early ’50s to the capital of Santo Domingo from the province of Puerto Plata. Back then he was a young man with dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual in La Guardia de Trujillo. He could barely read and write but he always had the ambitions of being near El Generalissimo. Trujillo was his idol and he intended to emulate him at all costs.
In those days, the Dominican military was a way to upper mobility for men like my father—men of humble backgrounds and little education who aspired to rise up in the ranks and become a general or part of the military mystique that was well-respected and adored by many Dominicans of his generation. My father would eventually become the chauffeur for one of Trujillo’s senior ranking officers. This was a duty that he was very proud of because it was a highly coveted job.
“Trujillo took pride in the military,” my father would say “and if you were one of his soldiers, you were respected by all,” he would conclude. “Guardias were respected and nobody would dare commit a crime against a guardia,” my mother would add.
I remember listening to my parents relate stories after stories about how good things were when Trujillo was in power. According to them, life was a lot simpler and the country enjoyed a much more prosperous economy. The crime rate was also low because anyone who was caught committing a crime would face a quick justice. “You could sleep with the door open and nobody would dare steal anything from you,” my mother always commented.
Trujillo did not bother with the small trivialities and bureaucracies of the justice system. And as in any society ruled by an oppressive dictator, Trujillo had a secret police that terrorized the population and instilled fears, creating suspicions among many.
El Generalissimo was assassinated in May 1961, the year I was born, and so by the time I was a teenager in the late ’70s, many of those who served under him were still around my neighborhood. Some of the men were still in the military. The mystique of Trujillo was very much palpable among the people.
Joaquin Balaguer, at one point Trujillo’s right-hand man, became president. Many people viewed his presidency as an extension of Trujillo’s reign but without the mass appeal and adulation from the masses. Balaguer was a hardliner, a well-educated man who despised university students and showered the poor with food baskets and toys. He was also a quiet and calculating operator who used his political shrewdness for political gain.
In short, Balaguer was a typical Latin American strongman. Unlike many men who were by Trujillo’s side and had climbed to the top by brute force, Balaguer did it by being his scribe and the architect of his policies. Balaguer did not take care of the military but rather used it as a tool of government. This and the fact that he was a lifelong bachelor and wifeless created rumors about his manhood—a dangerous thing for a leader in a country that values machismo. Yet, Balaguer was able to maintain a cozy relationship with the military.
And so in the late ’70s, right around the time of my adolescence, many people felt that the good times had already gone by. The Era of Trujillo had maintained a stable economy and even paid off the national debts. The ’70s, during which Balaguer was mostly president, were mired by oppression, political discourse, student protests, workers’ strikes, killings and disappearance of anyone labeled by the government radical or communist. There was also a stagnant economy and a public distrust of the uncontrollable private sector that raised the price of basic necessities at their own leisure. More than 15 years after the demise of Trujillo’s regime, the country was still trying to find itself.
Many had forgotten Trujillo’s crimes and his reign of brutality against the country. There was a sense of nostalgia, yet collective amnesia. They longed for the stability, prosperity, and a sense of national security that was common in the ’50s, even if it was at a price: the nonexistence of civil liberties and prevalent human rights violations. Trujillo’s regime had a paternal appeal for many Dominicans and it’s not a surprise that one of his many titles was Benefactor of the Nation.
By the late ’70s, my father had long left the military and emigrated to New York. “The military was never the same after Trujillo was killed,” my father lamented.
I was mostly raised by my mother, while my father left the country to look for a better future in Nueva York. Many times, I found myself going through my father’s old belongings. I admired his collections of military metals, photos, and a magazine of Trujillo that he so zealously kept private.
There is a photo of my father wearing the Dominican Air Force uniform with a ribbon on his chest and a picturesque background of palm trees and the ocean [seen in the collage above]. His dream was finally realized in this photo. There is another picture of my father with my mother and my grandmother [seen above]. They all look proud. My mother, next to her husband, who could count on him to provide for the family as long as he was in the military. My grandmother, who could also count on my father to help her economically and send her money to the countryside.
It was probably around the time these pictures were taken that my father was carrying out El Jefe’s crimes.
He was a small yet necessary piece of Trujillo’s gargantuan crushing and killing machine. Sometimes, I would get bits and pieces of his stories when he did not realize that I was around. Among friends, after a few cervezas and once the stupor of alcohol had dismantled away all his inhibitions, he would confess about being on patrol roaming the city for those deemed undesirables by the regime, “rompiendo cabezas,” or fracturing skulls, as he used to put it and “teaching them a lesson.”
There were many pictures of Trujillo. In those times, the ’50s, families were required to maintain pictures of El Jefe as a sign of loyalty toward the dictatorship. There was also that glossy magazine, probably commissioned by Trujillo. It had a biography of him and described his military triumphs and training. Trujillo had been trained and molded by the U.S. Marine Corps during the American occupation in 1918. The magazine also depicted the different types of armaments of the Dominican Armed Forces, planes, and troop marching. There were also ribbon-cutting ceremonies illustrating new facilities built by the dictator.
I grew up among all of these things. My parents longed for a past that would never return. Although my father had lived in the U.S. for more than five years by the late ’70s, he was reluctant to bring us here. He was hoping that his Santo Domingo would get better someday and he would be able to return. As such, he delayed his decision to bring us to the United States. I finally arrived in the winter of 1980 along with my mother and sister. My sister and I enrolled in community college and began English classes.
One day, my father sat me down and told me that I must either join the military or get a college education. He added that if I did not want to end up like him working in a factory, I had to learn English quickly. And so it was that in the fall of 1982, with a basic knowledge of the English language, I joined the U.S. Marines Corps. My father could not have been more proud of me when I return from basic training wearing the dress blue uniform. He carried a picture of me in that uniform in his wallet and he would show it to everyone.
I left the Marine Corps after three years to complete my bachelor’s degree. In 1990, after obtaining my degree, I started my civil service career working for the state of New Jersey. After that, I was my father’s favorite son. He always respected me for taking his advice. He did not have the same feelings for my sister because she never listened to him.
I eventually returned to military service in 1995. I joined the Army Reserve because I somehow missed the comradeship of the service and felt a sense of duty.
My father would go back to the Dominican Republic and visit his old friends from his military days. After all those years, he still kept in contact with them. My father would refer to this group of friends as “La Guardia Vieja,” or the old guard. Even after many years, he trusted his old military friends more than he trusted his brothers and other relatives.
My father passed away in 2004. When my sister was cleaning the house and giving away his belongings, I managed to keep the magazine and his old photos. I could not find his medals.
A few years later, one of his old friends from the military, who also happened to be my godfather, also passed away. Eventually, they all died off. In May of this year, Antonio Imbert Barrerra, one of the main plotters of Trujillo’s assassination, passed away at the age of 96.
The sense of military duty, derived from my father, has stayed in my family. In the spring of 2009, I was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. One day during my deployment I called my wife, and she sounded very upset and frustrated. She told me that our youngest son, who had been born in New Jersey 19 years before, decided to join the U.S. Army and did not bother to tell anyone.
“If anything happens to him, you are responsible. You guys with all this military thing,” my wife exclaimed.
She knew one or two things because her father had also served in the Dominican military during the Era of Trujillo. She was also raised a few blocks away from the Dominican Air Force Academy. (The history of its building and construction had also been featured in the magazine I kept of Trujillo.)
In the winter of 2010, my oldest son, born in New Jersey in 1987, also joined the U.S. Army, and a few years later he served in Afghanistan.
Thank you for sharing your family’s story with our readers and me. I recognized your ambivalence over your father’s role, and I also saw you redeem him partially through your own choices and the example you set for your sons. That is as much as we can do as individuals: rise and continue to rise.
I also want to thank you for illustrating so candidly the complexities of Dominican masculinity, which is the most potent—perhaps toxic?—element of our culture to this day. As a woman, I have experienced it second-hand, as expectations for me are far different, but I have long recognized the limiting ways men are expected to define themselves in our country. Your father’s “dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual” attest to the lure of power and authority that compels many men—Trujillo being the ultimate example—to bend others’ lives to their will. That dynamic is still steeped in the structures of families, churches, schools, and other significant institutions that collectively define Dominican identity. In the end, it is a trap for the men, and an extended sentence for the rest of us.
I’m sure you and I could speak at length about your experiences, but I’ll draw this note to a close by thanking you again for your candor and honesty, both of which are so necessary to reach true understanding and attain meaningful change.
Update from another reader with a similar experience as Luis’s and mine:
My parents were both born and raised in the Dominican Republic and experienced first-hand the nefarious dictatorship of Trujillo. That trauma informed my upbringing as a Dominican American in New York City. As a result I have written a book Dividing Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961 and wrote and perform a one-man show called Eddie’s Perejil (which you can learn more about on my website). Coming to grips with the legacy of dictatorships and mass murder is critically important, particularly in the diaspora. I applaud your important contributions to our understanding of post-trauma, memory, and identity.
Thirteen years ago, a young woman was found dead in small-town Texas. She was nicknamed “Lavender Doe” for the purple shirt she was wearing. Her real identity would remain a mystery until amateur genealogists took up her case.
The dead girl had perfect teeth.
That’s what so many of the strangers who obsessed over her case online noticed, and one of the few things that could even be noticed. Her body was burned so badly as to be unrecognizable when she was found in the early hours of October 29, 2006, near Longview, Texas.
The two men who saw her thought, at first, that they had stumbled across a mannequin set on fire, perhaps as an early Halloween prank. It was the smell that alerted them to something more sinister in the woods—a smell like charred hot dogs. When they stepped closer, they realized the awful and obvious truth. A human being had been killed, then doused in gasoline and set on fire, and probably only minutes before: Her body was still ablaze.
Thirty-one-year-old Andrew Giuliani finds himself in a surprisingly comfortable corner of the White House—for now.
It’s hard to turn on cable news or scroll through Twitter these days without catching the name “Giuliani.” Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, is a central character in the House’s impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, Rudy’s third wife, Judith Giuliani, has commanded her own headlines as she’s aired details of the couple’s contentious, ongoing divorce proceedings. Scarcely mentioned, however, is Andrew Giuliani—the former New York mayor’s 31-year-old son—who works in the White House.
Rudy Giuliani told me his son’s hire “wasn’t the usual ‘hire my kid’ situation.” “He’s known the president since he was a baby,” Rudy said. “Now, did he know him in the first place because he was the mayor’s son? Sure, but they also had a relationship independent of me.”
Yet his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein—which continued after the latter’s conviction for solicitation of prostitution involving a minor—is disturbing on another level. The prince’s decision this weekend to give an interview to the BBC about that friendship, which entirely lacked empathy or remorse, compounds the offense.
From the start, it was apparent that the queen’s second son dwells not on Earth, but on Planet Aristocracy. It is a land governed by rules and codes that are unfathomable to the rest of us. When the BBC’s Emily Maitlis asked whether he had invited Epstein to a party, Andrew quickly corrected her: “It was a shooting weekend … a straightforward shooting weekend.” The distinction—between an evening event and staying with friends to fire guns in muddy fields—is meaningless to anyone who grew up outside the English upper classes. Throughout, he seemed to adhere to an honor code where ghosting a friend is unconscionably discourteous, but exploiting underage girls is merely a “manner unbecoming.” It is essentially a two-tier view of the world, where people are divided into equals and human chaff.
People in different regions of the U.S. have measurably different psychological profiles.
A few years ago, Jason Rentfrow, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, dug into a question that has captivated him for decades: Do different places have different personalities? Do people in Los Angeles, for instance, have measurably different temperaments from the residents of Augusta, Georgia? If so, what does that mean for both places? Rentfrow decided to test these questions on a phenomenon that has captivated all of America lately: the rise of Donald Trump.
Together with his co-authors, Rentfrow analyzed a set of surveys that had been conducted from 2003 to 2015 in 2,082 U.S. counties—about two-thirds of all the counties in the country. The surveys asked 3 million people 44 questions about their habits and dispositions. Rentfrow and his co-authors focused on neuroticism, a tendency to feel depressed or anxious and to respond more severely to stress. Neuroticism is one of the “big five” traits that psychologists often use to measure personality. The study authors compared each county’s level of neuroticism with whether those counties later voted for Trump in the 2016 election, and whether they had historically voted for Republicans.
My parents recently divorced, and I’m not ready to spend the holiday with new people.
I’m in my late 20s, and my parents recently divorced after several decades of marriage. The divorce process was initiated about a year ago, and finalized about six months ago. I genuinely feel relieved that my mom and dad got divorced, and I think it is the best thing for both of them. My dad quickly got a new girlfriend, which I expected, and she moved in with him. I’ve met her once, at a large gathering, and she seems fine. My sibling has been living abroad temporarily, so has not yet met her.
For the upcoming holidays, my sibling and I will likely spend half of Thanksgiving Day at my dad’s house and the other half at my mom's house. When discussing Thanksgiving, my dad indicated that he is expecting us to spend time with his girlfriend (who will be doing the cooking) and her family (her adult children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, none of whom I’ve met).
More than two centuries after it was designed to empower southern white voters, the system continues to do just that.
Is a color-blind political system possible under our Constitution? If it is, the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 did little to help matters. While black people in America today are not experiencing 1950s levels of voter suppression, efforts to keep them and other citizens from participating in elections began within 24 hours of the Shelby County v. Holder ruling and have only increased since then.
In Shelby County’s oral argument, Justice Antonin Scalia cautioned, “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get them out through the normal political processes.” Ironically enough, there is some truth to an otherwise frighteningly numb claim. American elections have an acute history of racial entitlements—only they don’t privilege black Americans.
In an effort to prove that he did not sexually assault a 17-year-old in the 1990s, Prince Andrew offered a bizarre medical explanation.
Updated at 9:37 p.m. ET on November 18, 2019.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York, had a long friendship with the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell. Over the course of a decade, he stayed at their homes in New York and Palm Beach, traveled on Epstein’s private jet, and partied with the pair. According to Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the prince was also involved in Epstein’s crimes. Giuffre has alleged that Epstein and Maxwell forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew multiple times, beginning when she was 17.
Buckingham Palace has issued statements denying the allegations. But the prince had not spoken for himself until Saturday, when the BBC’s Emily Maitlis interviewed him in the State Room of the palace. In among the oddest details to focus on challenging, Prince Andrew contested Giuffre’s claim that, while she and the prince were allegedly dancing at a London nightclub, he was sweaty.
I first met him 21 years ago, and now our relationship is the subject of a new movie. He’s never been more revered—or more misunderstood.
A long time ago, a man of resourceful and relentless kindness saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy, and took an interest in me that went beyond my initial interest in him. He was the first person I ever wrote about who became my friend, and our friendship endured until he died. Now a movie has been made from the story I wrote about him, which is to say “inspired by” the story I wrote about him, which is to say that in the movie my name is Lloyd Vogel and I get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding.
I did not get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding. My sister didn’t have a wedding. And yet the movie, called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, seems like a culmination of the gifts that Fred Rogers gave me and all of us, gifts that fit the definition of grace because they feel, at least in my case, undeserved.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
By migrating in huge herds, bison behave like a force of nature, engineering and intensifying waves of spring greenery that other grazers rely on.
Chris Geremia was surprised. After considerable effort, and substantial risk to life and limb, he and his colleagues finally had the results from their decade-long experiment, and those results were both clear and unexpected: Bison do not surf.
Specifically, bison (or buffalo) don’t follow the waves of new shoots that burst from the ground every spring. This phenomenon, known as surfing the green wave, allows animals to eat plants at their most nutritious, when they’re full of nitrogen and proteins and low in indigestible matter. Such freshness is fleeting, and so grazers undertake large migrations to track the new greenery as it crests across the landscape. Over the past decade, scientists have shown that mule deer, barnacle geese, elk, elephants, Mongolian gazelles, and a dozen other species all do this. Geremia wanted to see whether bison, which once formed the largest grazing herds in North America, follow the same pattern.